Beautiful, Dirty, Politics

Republican Congresswomen are more “feminine” than their counterparts in the Democratic Party. But Republican Congressmen are “less masculine” than Democrat Congressmen. This is the slightly surprising conclusion of a recent University of California study.

The study was conducted by Kerri Johnson — an assistant professor of communication studies and psychology at UCLA and the senior author of the study — and Colleen M. Carpinella, a UCLA graduate student in psychology.

“Female politicians with stereotypically feminine facial features are more likely to be Republican than Democrat, and the correlation increases the more conservative the lawmaker’s voting record,” says Carpinella, according to the UCLA Newsroom. The less feminine a congresswoman, the study determined, the more likely they were to be Democrat, with the least feminine having the most Left-wing voting record.

Previous research had suggested that US citizens were able to determine the political affiliation of politicians by looking at their photographs alone, when they had no knowledge of the candidate. Because the UCLA researchers wanted to go beyond examining hair styles, makeup, etc., they turned to examining the physical structure of the faces. They analyzed the physical features of the 434 members of the 111th House of Representatives using the computer modeling program FaceGen Modeler. The program analyzes the facial features, from the dimensions of the nose to the shape of the jaw and fullness of the lips, assessing whether where the characteristics fall on a female to male range, plotted numerically: -40 for highly male-typed faces to +40 for highly female-typed.

Chicken or the egg? Beauty or policy positions?

Equality politics: beauty is a myth.
Equality politics: beauty is a myth.
Roger Scruton: beauty is real and transcendental.
Roger Scruton: beauty is real and transcendental.

The UCLA researchers “suspect that conservative constituents demand that their politicians be not just competent but also gender-typical, especially among women.” In other words, conservatives want their female representatives to be beautiful because, as such, they embody the traditional female look, and implicate themselves as true conservatives. But this somewhat unsatisfactory explanation throws up the question of whether the assumed demand for beauty is a reflection of a particular worldview, or whether the worldview is not to some extent based on the notion of beauty (as opposed to ugliness).

There are of course lots of different types of Left and Right, but, broadly speaking “Left” and “Right” have traditionally had very different opinions about beauty. As the proponent of “equality,” politicians and thinkers of the Left have been, and generally are, hostile to beauty. They might say that they are against the notion of beauty, but, as computer models have now shown, human beings do appear to hold to an actual standard of beauty founded in proportion, and, as such, that is beyond cultural convention.

Best representing the positions of Left and Right in regard to beauty is The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women by feminist author Naomi Klein and conservative Anglo-American philosopher Roger Scruton, who believes that beauty is real, and even a transcendental, spiritual value orientating us toward the sublime. In sharp contrast to Scruton, for whom beauty is uplifting, intellectuals, such as Klein, have pushed to introduce legislation to punish those guilty of “lookism,” i.e., preferring beauty to unattractiveness. Veteran journalist John Stossel has attempted to convince us of “The Ugly Truth About Beauty,” arguing that “We should add the bias of ‘lookism’ to sexism and racism” because “It’s just as bad.” Is it really? Again, according to Marie Claire, ecconomist Daniel Hamermesh has suggested “that ugly people deserve legal protection from their own appearance, as he believes ugliness is no different from race or a disability.”

Ugly politics

Attack ad: contrasting
Attack ad: contrasting “beautiful” Republicans with “ugly” Democrats.

If beauty is derided as “ugly,” because it implies inequality, so, too, do we often find especially female Republican candidates and congresswomen degraded sexually, or their appearances attacked, in op-eds, grassroots propaganda, etc. Whatever ones opinions about the Alaskan Governor, Sarah Palin found that her head was Photoshopped onto bikinis, as well as covers of Vogue and Maxim magazine when she ran for Vice President. Even more explicit, though, was porn magazine Hustler, who, in 2012, Photoshopped an image of Republican New York Daily News columnist S. E. Cupp having oral sex. Beneath the doctored image, the porn mag attacked Cupp for being on the “dark side” of politics, and complained “her hotness is diminished when she espouses dumb ideas like defunding Planned Parenthood.”

But Republican supporters have, for their part, noted what the recent UCLA study confirms, i.e., that Republican congresswomen are generally viewed as more attractive. And they have also used it to attack the Democrats — although perhaps not in such explicitly sexual a manner. A few years ago, an image comparing prominent female Republicans and Democrats began floating around the web. The implication, was, that Republican women are more beautiful, and perhaps mentally more balanced (since the images of the Democrats showed them at their worst, with their mouths hanging open, and so on).

The extreme-Right and beauty

Girls just wanna have guns: National Bolshevik Party propaganda.

Because of its belief in traditional beauty and its opposition to equality, looks have played a role in far-Right politics. “Thanks to hundreds of reports from France since the 22 April vote, the world now knows that Marine Le Pen is blonde,” commented RFI, France’s leading news radio station, earlier this year. RFI went on to list other things that they had learned — such as Le Pen’s love of ice skating — but that it listed being blonde first suggests the degree to which Le Pen’s looks were important to the Front National, the far-Right party she had taken over from her much less attractive father, Jean-Marie.

Image, as Marine Le Pen realized, was crucial to electoral success. At one point she was pegged to be elected President of France. That didn’t happen, but such predictions by mainstream media outlets was extraordinary, considering the FN’s earlier largely fringe position in the political arena.

In Russia, likewise, the National Bolshevik Party has also used images of its female members in its propaganda. Despite the name, the National Bolsheviks are on the extreme-Right (it’s emblem is a hammer and sickle inside instead of a swastika inside the Nazi flag), although the party is part of the largely respectable Other Russia opposition coalition. The emphasis on aesthetics by the NB party may have originated with Eduard Limonov, a Russian author and eccentric, who founded the party. He was interested in Punk, and the seamier side of life, which he depicted in his raunchy fictional biography of his life in New York City, It’s Me, Eddie.

Republican men — not so macho, after all

However, if Right-wing congresswomen and politicians tend to be more feminine, Right-wing men may not be more masculine. Despite being associated with gun rights, strong national self-defense, and a dislike of “paternalistic” government programs, the UCLA researchers found that male Republican congressmen often scored as less masculine than Democratic Party congressmen. We wonder if this explains why some Democrats have long accused conservative columnist Ann Coulter of being a transexual.

The findings of the UCLA study will be published in the in the peer-reviewed Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Angel_headshot_smallAngel Millar is an author, blogger, and the editor of People of Shambhala.

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